Day 6: Buck Creek to Horse Mountain Creek

Our morning at Buck Creek began very early, with cool mist coating the tent and the soft sound of the waves down below us on the beach.  I peeked out the tent door and discovered that the hills above us were enshrouded in white drifting cloud.  The inside of the tent was wet with condensation from our breathing overnight, and the outside was wet from tiny droplets of slowly descending mist.  It was as if a spell of peace had been cast upon the campground.

We were the first ones awake that morning.  We got dressed for our day-hike and paused outside the tent to eat one of our no-cook breakfasts.  We wore our raingear as protection from the sopping wet leaves we knew we’d be pushing through on the old road/trail.  This also provided a final layer to keep our regular clothing free of any poison oak contamination.  After tiptoeing quietly through two campsites, we found the correct path.  It went uphill in a steep but steady way, as you’d expect from an old dirt road,  We paused just above the campground to take a photo before we plunged into the darker forest.

I have to admit that I love walking through a mist-filled forest.  Some might call it spooky, but those are people who tend to be scared of the wilderness.  Personally, I’d prefer to call it magical and mysterious.

We continued uphill into the mist, hoping to break through the cloud layer.  We really wanted to get a view from up there.  We climbed about a mile up the old road, with almost a thousand feet of elevation gain (that’s a 20% grade, pretty steep in other words) and the mist never let up for a moment.  Even though the air was cool, it was also at 100% humidity, and we started sweating inside our raingear.  And we didn’t dare take off the leg layer as we’d seen quite a few poison oak plants sticking out along the trail.

The relentless mist had me bemoaning the fact that we’d put off the ridge climb until today, at Buck Creek, when we could have done it a few days earlier on Spanish Ridge, back when the skies were clear.  But there’s no getting this genie back into the bottle, not without a time machine.

So we headed back down the trail to camp, defeated but still happy, after taking a short break up on the ridgetop.

As we came down into camp, we mentioned the poison oak to one of our neighbors.  He was busy packing up his gear, and he pulled out a tube of Tecnu soap, which works really well to remove the irritating, allergy-causing oils that poison oak leaves on your skin.  Vicki is hyper-sensitive to poison oak, and she was super grateful.  Backpackers are simply the best people, always helping each other out.  We walked down to the creek near the ocean and Vicki used the tecnu quickly enough that we were able to give the tube back before our neighbor headed out.  He told Vicki to keep it, but as he was headed north, we insisted that he take it with him, as there was plenty of poison oak along the inland sections of trail, and we would be on the beach the rest of the way.

We headed back up the hill and finished packing our gear.  We kept the contaminated rainpants in ziplock bags and stuffed them way down inside our packs.  We’d worry about them later on, back home.  We said goodbye to all of our neighbors as they trooped out of camp, and then it was time for us to leave.  Goodbye Buck Creek!  You were a good campground.  And then we headed down the hill to the beach, where the tide was low enough to hike.  Except for that pesky mist, our plan was working perfectly.

It was already late morning, but the fog wasn’t going much of anywhere.  After the last few roasting days, we were greatly relieved to be hiking in such cool conditions.  We looked up and down the beach.  There were footprints everywhere.  Wow!  Those three-day LCT hikers really knew how to get going.  Vicki and I weren’t even sure where we were going to camp that night!  Gitchell Creek was only 1.5 miles to the south, and we figured that we’d have to be ultra-wimps to stay there.  But we were ultra-wimps!  We left it as an option, in case the campground was really nice.  Horse Mountain Creek was 3.6 miles away, and that was our likely destination.  But we’d see how it went.

As we hiked south we saw quite a bit of wildlife, including a few turkey vultures.  The fly nicely, but those red beaks just don’t sit well with me for some reason.  This was a good place for them, as dead things were constantly washing up on shore.  All they had to do was wait for the low tide to reveal them.

The first section of beach was nice and sandy, but the footing wasn’t always firm, even down near the freshly washed area by the waves.  Just the same, it was excellent by Lost Coast Trail Standards.  And we were reminded of this when we came around a small point and discovered a beach made of small, smooth stones.  It wasn’t quite as bad as walking on a deep pile of marbles, but it was close.  And the sound they made, squeezing out from underfoot, was pretty cool.

Vertical cell phone video of me walking on the beach made of large gravel

The section of coast just north of Gitchell Creek is called “Tidal Flat” on the map.  It looked as if all of these stones end up below the waterline during the larger high tides each month, the ones that happen during full and new moons.  And it was pretty obvious that the piles of stones shifted often due to wave action, much like sand dunes in the winds, but much faster as the ocean has plenty of energy.  Sand, stones, rocks, boulders, and even giant driftwood logs get tossed around and left behind for the next big storm to repeat the process.

The tidal flat was a linear strip of coastline about a half mile long.  We trudged south on the gravel and stones until the beach got wider and sandier.  Much easier hiking.  This was where the high-tide-impassable section ended.  From this beach we were able to see all the way back along the curve of the land to Big Flat, where we camped two days ago.  That entire section was the within the impassable zone, which was about four miles long.

Panorama video of the beach north of Gitchell Creek, on a cloudy cool day

It was noon when we arrived at Gitchell Creek, and we both decided to take a long lunch break.  We checked out the deep pool near the outlet of the creek, which had quite a few fish in it.  It looked as though the high tide of salt water came into this pool, while during low tide it was fed by fresh water from the creek.  So we figured it was probably brackish at this point, and not much fun for fish adapted to either fresh or salt water.

There were a couple of good campsites within some large driftwood logs, high up on the beach.  We ate lunch in one of them.  Then we decided to day-hike upstream a bit, as my map app said that there were other sites up there.  We found those spots, and also discovered a pleasantly forested canyon even further upstream.  It was green and shady and cool in there, complete with the sounds of a gurgling stream.  Very pretty.

We came back to the beach and met a few other groups of hikers.  There was a crowd down by the shore, all taking photos with their phones, so we went to check it out:  There was an otter on the beach!  It was busy eating, and didn’t seem scared of the humans, as long as they kept their distance.

We went back to the logs and had some fun while eating lunch and reading our books.  It was a mellow scene.  I got out the map and we discussed our plan for the day.  If we stayed here, we’d have four miles to hike tomorrow, our final day.  Or we could continue two miles further to Horse Mountain Creek, which would get us to the car early on our final day.  I suggested that we hike onward, since we’d already explored this creek.  Tomorrow might be better spent checking out Humboldt Redwoods State Park, after a short hike to the trailhead.  Vicki really liked that idea.  The beach was great, but we didn’t manage to see enough redwoods on our drive north.  This would be our big chance.

So we headed on south toward Horse Mountain Creek.  After a while, the beach turned to sand, and Vicki decided to take off her shoes to cool her feet and feel the sand between her toes.  Aaaahhh!  Yes, the water was seriously cold, but she didn’t care.  Sadly, the sand didn’t last forever, and she put the shoes back on when the rocky shore returned.

We arrived at Horse Mountain Creek just before 4pm, and there were two other campers already there.  They, too, were heading south.  We all laughed when we explained our reasoning for staying here that night:  “Because we’re retired!”  They were retired, too.  Why leave the beach a day early?  The Lost Coast was truly beautiful, and spending a full week hiking it was one of our better ideas.

After setting up the tent, there wasn’t much to do except read our books and look at the ocean.  The sun had never managed to break through the cloud layer, and we were grateful.  We’d hiked about six and a half miles that day, which made it one of our longest days this trip, and our feet were tired.  The marine charts showed a couple of sunken rocks just offshore, and we tried to see them by the disturbance they made on the waves.  Vicki swore she saw one, but couldn’t get a decent picture of it.  But at least there were a couple of seals playing around out there to keep her happy.  There were also some big rocks on the beach to the south, and we watched the waves smashing into them, sending spray up into the air.

There wasn’t much of a sunset that evening, thanks to all the clouds, but we were happy.  Vicki cooked our dinner in the lee of some nearby bushes, and then we ate it while sitting on the big logs near our tent.  It was a nice little campsite.  As evening drew on, we could see the lights from the town of Shelter Cove, only two miles away.  We decided to take our time waking up in the morning, and then we headed off to bed.  It had been a long and fun-filled day.



For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page

For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page


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